Uncovering the Upland Zone Archaeological Heritage: A Case Study from the Mirkovo Basin, Bulgaria

Otto Braasch once claimed that 'Europe was half-blind', since aerial photography was minimally utilized in Eastern Europe - the same is true for much remote sensing. Europe is a mountainous continent, with a high proportion of its uplands unresponsive to traditional intensive fieldwalking techniques. There is thus a massive inbalance of archaeological information from lowland plowzone-rich areas (e.g., the Thracian Plain) in comparison with upland zones (e.g., the Mirkovo Basin).
The Mirkovo Project aims to redress this balance by building on Dr. Ilijan Boyanov's
"Expert Evaluation of Archaeological Sites and Monuments in Mirkovo territory" completed in 2010 for the Town Council, in which 11 sites were identified from the archives. The Project proposes a combination of three high-risk methods hardly used before in Bulgaria to identify sites and monuments in pastureland and forest with two well-tested techniques for validation.
The Mirkovo Basin covers c. 200 km2; the applicants propose to study the three main zones
using different methods: 12% arable (intensive fieldwalking, UAV and LIDAR survey), 30%
pasture (landscape geophysics, geochemical mapping, UAV and LIDAR survey) and 50% forest
(UAV and LIDAR survey).
Penetration of the tree cover using near infra-red LIDAR data appears ideal for upland site prospection in forested catchments. There have been two tests of LIDAR aerial reconnaissance in Bulgaria (Black Sea coastal zone: unpub.; Ada Tepe mining center, Krumovgrad: Popov 2011) but this remains a high-risk method for Bulgaria. The use of model aeroplane unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to generate aerial images, digital elevation models (DEMs) and other digital data capture (i.e. NIR and NDVI) for use in archaeological reconnaissance surveys is novel and untested; no UAV survey has never been used in Bulgaria; equally, Near Infra Red imaging and Normalised Digital Vegetation Index recording have not been used anywhere in Europe for reconnaissance of pasture and woodland. Landscape geophysics - the off-site coverage by caesium magnetometer of a 15% sample of pastureland - has never been tried in Bulgaria, since all previous applications have focussed on site-based research. This is arguably the highest-risk technique of all three but has potentially the greatest benefits. Method development and subsequent validation are an essential part of the project proposal. The other two methods - geochemical testing of pasture and forest areas and intensive fieldwalking in the plow-zone - are well-known but provide an essential cross-check against aerial reconnaissance results. This project links cutting-edge archaeological science to upland ethnoarchaeology and seeks to transform our knowledge of European upland land-use. A successful feasibility study opens up much of the European uplands to similar methods.

Project proposal Pi: 
Boyan Dumanov New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria, and John Chapman, Durham University, UK